Business Relationship Management with Boxing Gloves!

buying-cheap-boxing-gloves-onlineI love teaching the Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) course! They say that the best way to learn is to teach, and I always learn from my course participants.

I was teaching a course last week and went through my usual routine of asking the participants what metaphors they thought come to mind when they think about the BRM role. The answers are always revealing and sometimes surprising. In last weeks course, one of the most seasoned BRMs said, “Boxer!” I was initially taken aback, but as he went on to describe his choice of metaphor, I realized what an apt metaphor boxing represents.

Not An “Order-Taker”!

Some novice BRMs fall into the trap of becoming an “order-taker.” All business requests are seen as good requests, no matter what the potential to deliver real business value. The seasoned BRM, by contrast, knows how to deflect low value requests, as a boxer deflects his opponent’s punches.

Not An “Account Manager“!

Some novice BRMs think of themselves as “Account Managers”, making sure the business partner‘s needs are routed to the proper people in the Provider organization. This is a dreadfully limited role, and sooner or later someone is going to wonder why we have such seasoned, skilled resources adding so little value. Boxers fight for themselves–they understand the stakes and work every day to prove their worth.

Not A “Gap Filler”!

Weak BRMs are victims of dysfunctional Provider organizations–stepping in to fill any and all gaps in their business partner needs that are not being adequately met by the Provider. Strong BRMs deflect low value requests. They challenge dysfunctionality in the Provider organization, bobbing and weaving to move the Provider to a more responsive role. Willing to throw a punch when necessary, appreciating that to not do so is to become a punching bag for someone who is not stepping up to the plate–who is not delivering what they are supposed to deliver.

Throughout the 3-day course, the seasoned BRM who offered the boxing metaphor went on to offer many real examples of how he had pushed back and steered his business partner away from low value requests towards high value opportunities. He offered examples of how he had refused to collude with dysfunctional Provider behavior, while stepping in to point out shortcomings in Provider services or processes, and offering to help fix these–once!  There were no second chances. Let the business partner down a second time and you received the knockout punch!

Like I said, I love BRM training!

What metaphors do you find especially enlightening about the BRM role?  Answers on a postcard, please!  (Or even better, as comments on this post!)

The BRM and Shared Services

Shared_Services_89180833Some years ago it seemed that much of my management consulting work was helping large, complex corporations implement some form of global shared business services.  This was always challenging, disruptive, but ultimately fascinating work.  There were always significant benefits to be had (cost savings, service improvements, increased leverage and collaboration) and in some cases, figuring out the synergies among disparate business units was almost literally a ‘game-changer’.

The Keys to Effective Shared Services

I have not been particularly tracking the shared services trend for the last several years, but I wonder why I am not seeing more of it among my Business Relationship Management consulting clients and trainees? After all, the keys to effective IT services are more broadly applicable to all shared services:

  • Strong Service Management discipline
  • A focus on Service Value
  • Global sourcing
  • Integrated measurement and governance across all Shared Services
  • Business value focused Relationship Management

Information Technology is not a Solution

Furthermore, in today’s business climate of continuous change and rapidly emerging technologies, sustainable competitive advantage is rarely gained from IT alone. Today, it is more commonly the combination of:

  1. Better information enabling better decisions or new services
  2. New technologies enabling better business processes or business models
  3. Smarter, more collaborative, more engaged talent

These three dimensions demand a strong synergy among technology, business process and human resource experts. And yet, traditionally, these three disciplines have not always worked together synergistically. For me, cost savings notwithstanding, achieving 1., 2. and 3. above is the best reason for shared services.  In other words, it’s not an efficiency play, it’s an effectiveness play.

Shared Services Maturity

Shared Services Maturity

Shared Services Maturity

Regular readers will know that I am fond of using maturity models as a way of making sense of the world.  The Shared Services Maturity Model above surfaced through a multi-company research collaborative I was part of back in 2006. I’m pleased to say that many companies have made progress in maturing their shared service capabilities over the last 10 years, but the progress is slow, and it is still the rare minority that are really achieving the benefits of Value-centric Shared Services.

If you are an IT Business Relationship Manager, imagine how much more impact you could have if your domain was people, process and technology!

Are Consultants Providing Bad Business Relationship Management Advice?

Danger Bad Advice AheadAnother post inspired by a question from a BRMI member on our BRMI Online Campus – the wiki-based home of the BRM Interactive Body of Knowledge and the platform for BRMI member networking and collaboration.  Here’s what the member posted (with minor edits to protect the guilty!):

I attended a presentation regarding the evolution of a BRM role for IT Professionals.  The audience consisted of senior IT leaders from VPs up through CIOs.  The presenter was from a well known IT consulting firm.  I found it interesting that after his 45 minute presentation he never went above the level of BRMs being a Service Provider.  I had to offer my feedback that while I felt he did a fine job of presenting the role of a service provider, he did not have the entire picture of a true BRM.  I touched on the fact that BRMs need to do more, that they need to fill that role of an adviser, an expert and a strategic partner.  That resulted in some very good discussion for which he said he was appreciative, yet I wonder if others are experiencing other consulting firms portraying a very limited (and limiting!) perspective on the BRM Role?  Do you get the sense that our Business Partners are being told by outside firms that all they need are service providers?  I know I deal with that mind-set frequently in my organization and have to educate my clients on how we are engaging at a much higher level when we meet.”

Though not pertinent to the excellent question (and its implicit observation) I feel compelled to share what else the member said in his post:

I had several one-on-one discussions following the presentation and I told most all of them to become BRMI members.  I explained to them how helpful BRM Online Campus can be to them on their journey to building a better partnership model with their clients.”

I found the member’s post to be an interesting and telling story!  I have certainly witnessed this first hand. Some “authorities” really do understand the BRM role – perhaps not quite as much as we at BRMI aspire to – but they still get it.  For example, I generally find that Gartner gets it pretty much right, and has been ‘promoting’ the BRM story for a number of years.  Our valued BRMI sponsors Leading Edge Forum, very much get it, and have conducted extensive research into the role over the years. After that, the knowledge gets pretty thin and in some cases, completely wrong!

I’ve had to go in after other consulting firms have pointed clients in a very wrong BRM direction. The clients, sooner or later, figure out that what they’ve been told is either unworkable or at least is unsustainable (the BRM as a single point of contact is an example of consulting advice I had to help a client recover from a couple of years ago!)

This is a shame. We at BRMI are trying to spread the word – but we can only spread it so far, so fast!  It is practitioners such as the member that created the post above that know the reality and have the presence to interject a dose of reality!

Scrum: Twice the Work in Half the Time–Really? Part 2

scrum-daily-scrums-axisagile-scrumtroopersThis is Part 2 of a 2-part post.

In Part 1 I provided some context for my post inspired by the book “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland, including a disclaimer on why you might not like this book. If you are experienced in Scrum methods, please look at Part 1 before reading this post. If you don’t have any Scrum experience, please look at Part 1 before reading this post!

Why I Loved This Book!

With my career focus on realizing business value from IT investments I’ve seen so much “business value leakage” and even many outright project disasters. As such, I’m inherently a believer in agile approaches, and wonder why they are so slow to penetrate enterprise IT organizations.

Scrum draws heavily on the principles of Lean, with aspects of Iterative Development, Rapid Application Development (RAD) popularized by James Martin, and is one dimension of the Agile movement. The book is very much a history of Scrum–and a compelling history it is! If we are to believe the author (and his credentials are stellar!) many major projects that were waaaaaay off track were brought back on track using Scrum.

I’ve always believed in the mantra, “Deliver value early. Deliver value often” and this is inherent in the Scrum approach. What surprised me most about the book is that Scrum can be and apparently is being used in a wide variety of projects and businesses, well beyond the world of software projects. In retrospect, this makes sense. With the pace of change we all live under, the ways social media and Web 2.0 technologies enable rapid experimentation and the rise of ‘customer experience’ as the key perspective, the notion of rapid delivery of value in a series of short “sprints” makes sense.

Dr. Sutherland has an impressive background–from Top Gun fighter pilot with over one hundred missions over North Vietnam, to receiving a Doctoral degree from the University of Colorado Medical School to systems development and the co-father of Scrum. He is a great story teller–his many anecdotes and experiences are highly relevant and compelling. The book is well-organized, with each chapter ending in “The Takeaway.” Apart from the anecdotal evidence in favor of Scrum and the sheer logic of his arguments, Sutherland presents mathematical evidence of the cost of ‘context switching’ so prevalent in the way IT organizations run today, and in the prevalence of misguided multitasking that is robbing us not only of quality, but of lives, as people try to drive and text or conduct phone conversations at the same time.

Jeff gets into a topic I feel quite passionate about because I see it very frequently in my clients–we are all working harder than ever and generally getting less done! This is an insidious behavior–creating the delusion that we are getting things done, while the reality is that we are simply busy–trying to get so much done that nothing of value is really getting done–or that we are unable to distinguish between the valuable and the urgent.

The book reminds us of what we are all acutely aware–detailed ‘waterfall style’ project planning creates a lot of work and delivers an illusion of reality that almost never pans out.

The Trouble With Scrum

Other than the inevitable learning curve, there are some very real problems with Scrum–or more to the point, with the context in which Scrum is applied.  These include:

  • The IT project funding model. There’s an age old aphorism about crime, “If you want to understand a crime, follow the money.”  My corollary to this is, “If you want to understand dysfunctional behaviors around IT, follow the money!”  Most funding models drive dysfunctional behaviors. With regard to Scrum, funding models are often not set up to fund in increments, and business sponsors feel that if they don’t sponsor the whole project up front, they may be left ‘hanging’ with additional needs and no resources to support them. Sponsoring the whole project up front typically means building the project plan and securing project resources–with the implication that you know exactly what you are going to deliver and how you are going to deliver it–which flies in the face of Scrum. I believe there is merit in adopting a Real Options approach to funding business initiatives, and that this might align quite nicely to Scrum and other agile methods.
  • The shortage of skilled Scrum Masters and Product Owners–roles crucial to Scrum success.
  • Resistance to organizational change. It is ironical that even though we know that waterfall approaches don’t work very well, we at least we are familiar with those methods and feel like we have control (even if that is largely fantasy!) we are reluctant to try new methods, no matter how compelling the evidence might be about the value of those methods.
  • Clarity of what types of solutions best lend themselves to Scrum, and what to stay away from.  I hear this quite a lot, and have to say I’m actually rather skeptical that Scrum can’t be applied to most, if not all, business problems and IT solutions. However, I don’t have the experience base to support my skepticism–reader feedback welcome!

Implications for Business Relationship Management

Regular readers of my blog will know that since co-founding Business Relationship Management Institute in early 2013, many of my posts have a Business Relationship Management (BRM) spin, so I want to explore the implications of Scrum on the BRM role. Having teed that up, I have to admit that I have many more questions that answers. I’ve had many discussions with BRMs about Scrum, and this is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Some BRMs have no idea what I’m talking about when I raise questions about Scrum.
  2. Those that do are generally enthusiastic about the concept but are having a hard time nudging their Project Management and Solution Delivery groups into adopting Scrum methods.
  3. A few actually have Scrum ‘experiments’ going on, with generally positive results.

I’ve recently kicked off some research among the BRM community and will share my findings through this blog and other channels.  If you have some experience and would like to participate in the research, please let me know directly, or via comments on this post.


Graphic courtesy of Axis Agile

Scrum: Twice the Work in Half the Time–Really? Part 1


[Note: Originally intended to be a single post book review, but it grew to the point where I decided to make it a 2-part post. Please check back next week for the second part.]

This post was inspired by my recent read of the book, “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of the Scrum Project Management method. Any book that claims to explain the secrets of ‘doing twice the work in half the time’ is either totally bogus, or is onto something worth investigating. When the author is Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, I felt this was a book worth reading.

What I Thought I Knew About Scrum

I started my career (after a brief false start as a computer hardware design engineer) in computer software–specifically developing software to automate software development. As such, I was very interested in software and project management methods.

With my engineering background, I was an early proponent of Software Engineering and Information Engineering. These all made tremendous sense to me, and with the late James Martin’s eloquent and engaging writing and presentation style, I was a believer.  So much so that I started a company–CASE Research Corporation–to really drill deeply into how Software Engineering, Information Engineering, and especially the emerging automation tools collectively known as Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) were faring in practice.

What I found was decidedly mixed. While there were outstanding success stories that would make the ‘twice the work in half the time’ claim seem modest, the general acceptance of these tools and methods by the software development community was low. To be more precise, within companies whose business was software, the acceptance was quite high.  But in commercial enterprises, where software was a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, acceptance was low to non-existent. IT managers were willing to invest quite heavily in the latest and greatest CASE tools and methods, but programmers were reluctant to let go of their perceived “art”–hand coded third generation languages (mostly COBOL) and structured methods that were, at best, loosely applied.

Fast forward to today. With the context that I spend most of my time with very large IT organizations (typically from 200 to 2000 IT staff) the experience with Scrum is again, decidedly mixed. I find it to be generally stronger and more favorable in environments where software IS the business, and less so where it’s a means to an end.

A Serendipitous Find…

I usually travel with pre-selected books on my Kindle Voyage, but occasionally I let serendipity take its course. This was the case when I was en route to the elegant Château de Guermantes outside Paris for my recent Business Relationship Management Professional® training course. I had time to peruse the bookshop in the Atlanta airport and came across Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland. I rarely buy hardback books (an issue of weight and cost!) but this book was somehow speaking to me, “Buy me, Read me!”  So I did!

Before I get into the book review, let me set some expectations by revealing data from the current reviews on As at this writing, with 78 reviews, the book earns just under the highest 5-star rating. 60 reviewers rate at 5 stars, 13 at 4 stars, 1 at 3 stars and 4 at 2 stars. I’m always interested in the outliers.

Why You Might Not Like This Book

The common themes among the detractors were:

  • Most are already sold on and practicing Scrum and are disappointed that it’s not a detailed “How to” book. (One reviewer was struggling to get Scrum to work!)
  • The book is more about the history and evolution of Scrum and the biography of Jeff Sutherland.
  • The book is a heavy ‘Scrum sell’ and promises to solve all the worlds problems!

Please join me next week for Part 2 of this 2-part post where I will get into why I LOVED this book, the trouble with Scrum, implications for the Business Relationship Manager, and some research I’m conducting on the implications of Scrum on the BRM role.


A New Way To Learn—In Style!

Chateau de Guermantes_crop

The Bottom Line in Training?

Companies usually give a great deal of thought to what training they invest in, and who they choose as trainers. But they give far less thought to training location–often picking a nearby hotel for convenience and reasonable rates. This can be very short-sighted, and limit the value of the training! Here’s my recent experience–read on!

The Context–In the Hands of My Client and a Very Old Castle!

I have just returned from teaching a Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) course just outside Paris, France. This was for a client–a well known global corporation. The client had made all the local logistics arrangements, including choosing the training location. Participants were traveling to the course from across France, Italy and the Czech republic. Some of them were known to each other, but not all. They were hoping for a training experience that would provide the knowledge they needed and help them develop as a Business Relationship Management team. A couple of weeks before the scheduled training I was informed that I’d be teaching in an old castle! Oh dear–what could this mean?

Location, Location, Location!

As a trainer, choice of location is extremely important for a couple reasons:

  1. I need a facility with high quality audio-video, a very large screen, a comfortable setting, and responsive staff, capable of dealing with last minute needs and ensuring refreshments are served on time and that everything goes like clockwork.
  2. Perhaps even more important, the trainees need a comfortable room and chairs, plenty of space, and an environment conducive to learning, sharing and bonding.


A Brilliant New Concept in Training

My client had chosen Château de Guermantes, a 17th Century listed monument, run by a company called Châteauform’. The concept is brilliant–the execution superb! No, this is not a paid advertisement. I simply want to recognize an innovative training facility, and point others to what I discovered by accident. Quoting from their website:

The Founder of Châteauform’, Jacques Horovitz, has spent more than thirty years of his professional career organising residential seminars… throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. What struck him was that, very often, the chosen venues were completely incompatible with the type of seminar organised! Sometimes it was the meeting rooms that were not suitable, sometimes the place itself: often too big, where you felt lost surrounded by other groups, weddings, business men or even families on holiday. A break or a sports activity was almost never planned during the working day: either through lack of activities offered or quite simply because there was nothing to do to relax, discuss or simply get to know one another! He also noticed the lack of flexibility with regard to meals: too long or too heavy, when they should have been light to enable people to work throughout the day, or seated when they should have been informal…

Châteauform’ finds listed buildings (stately homes, castles) that are anachronistic in terms of purpose (a home) and upkeep (expensive!) and finds a wonderful new purpose–training and seminars. (Downton Abbey fans–think about the dilemma facing the Earl of Grantham as England changed and the upkeep of the splendid family residence became unsupportable.)  Châteauform’ has created venues–houses in the country, away from the noise of the city–dedicated to business meetings, where learning and relaxation blend together and where you can take the time to reflect on and process what is being taught. I believe they obtain government subsidies for putting these treasures to good use.

As their website continues:

They are not restaurants, but spaces for communication and discussion. They are not multi-purpose rooms, but places for work and reflection. The most important part: in our houses, you are not received by hotel staff but welcomed by a host couple into their house!

Gaining Knowledge (and Weight!)

20150121_123702The food was outstanding!  (Have you ever tried training or learning when you are hungry?) Chef Patrick described the dinner and wine pairings to our group each evening. His performance was so polished that I was able to use him as an illustration in the final course module, “Powerful Communications.” He had spoken for about 10 minutes in French about the meal he’d prepared for us, and the wines to go with it. His eloquence, presentation style and non-verbal cues were such that even though I did not understand much of what he said, I was salivating for the food and really excited by the menu and wines–the power of great communication! (He did also talk to us in English, but by then I was “sold” on the meal! The English language can never do justice to fine French gastronomie.) By the way, for those whose diet requires them to avoid things such as foi gras and rich sauces, there was a plentiful supply of ‘healthy’ food.

Service That Speaks “Quality” and an Exceptional Customer Experience

I arrived Monday morning into Charles de Gaulle airport on a long flight from Atlanta, GA. Our group met for dinner that evening, and my last words to them were, “Remember, we start at 8:30am sharp–please be on time!”

Horror of horrors, the next thing I remember was waking up and looking at my travel alarm clock to see it was 8:40am!  I had blown in badly! With the quickest shower I’ve ever taken, no breakfast or coffee, and, for the first time ever, appearing in front of a client unshaven, I made it to the meeting room by 9:00am. Fortunately, my participants were good humored about my tardiness, but I knew I could not make that mistake again. I asked our hosts if there was any way to get me a really loud alarm clock–clearly with jet lag, my little travel clock was not going to be sufficient.

20150120_221645When I got back to my room, I found not one, but two alarm clocks, with large, old-style bells! I was also informed that I would get a wake-up call, just to make sure I would start the day in time for a healthy breakfast. (By the way, I learned that the hosts had driven into town to buy these clocks specially for me, and tested several different types to find the loudest!)

Designed to Relax and Network

In addition to the exquisite setting, ambiance, wonderful cuisine and superb service, the Château featured places to relax and play, including bicycles for enjoying the grounds, indoor and outdoor games, and areas to sit and chat. Bars seemed to be liberally placed and stocked–just help yourself! Even a well-stock cigar humidor for those so inclined!

20150122_190054Châteauform’ has properties all over Europe. But this post is less about an innovative company that provides exquisite facilities for training events and seminars. It’s more about thinking beyond the obvious and mundane–reaching passed the ‘usual’ to provide an outstanding training experience–one that taps into the emotions and senses to create deep learning memories for a lifetime.



Business Relationship Manager Titles–Does Size Matter?


Once again, I received an interesting question from a reader that prompted a post. Here’s the question:

My BRM organization is going through leveling and restructuring. I have several BRM’s reporting to me and am working with very senior business executives with billion dollar business units. My peers in the IT organization have Vice President titles because they have larger organizations than mine. My BRMs sometimes feel that their titles put them at a disadvantage when engaging with their business partners. Is this a common issue?  Any suggestions for approaching this issue?

Organization Size Does Not Equate to Importance of the Leader!

This reader was caught in an interesting and relatively common dilemma! CIOs have faced issues about salary levels for years–often seen as having too many specialists, too many salary bands, and being ‘out of step’ with the rest of the company they support. Exacerbating this, IT organizations often continue to equate the importance of a leadership position (and therefore ‘level’ of that position) with the number of people in a given leader’s organization. This is, of course, a false premise–importance should have more to do with the nature of the leadership position rather than the number of folk reporting to that position (which is not only an invalid indicator of importance, but also drives dysfunctional behavior, i.e., organization size = power!)

Contemporary management thinking and leading HR practice has worked hard to flatten organizations and to break the “organization size = power” paradigm. Some roles carry more ‘weight’ than others, regardless of the number of people working for that role.

Access and Influence Are Key BRM Requirements

Of course, access and influence are earned by a BRM through their skills and behaviors–not because of their title. I’ve worked with very young and relatively low-level BRMs who wield enormous influence and gain access to the highest levels of business executive by dint of their skills and abilities.

However, some enterprises are very hierarchical in nature, and titles carry significant meaning. A BRM with the title ‘Manager’ for example might find it impossible to get on a Vice President’s calendar, while a Director or another Vice President would have no problem gaining access.

BRMs–Leverage Thy Influence and Persuasion Skills!

So, what did I advise the reader that prompted this post to do? Leverage their influence and persuasion skills and their knowledge of Business Transition Management (also known as Organizational Change Management) principles:

  1. Identify the key stakeholders in effecting a change to BRM titles/levels.  And don’t forget Human Resources as a key stakeholder!
  2. Identify What’s In It For Them (the WIFM’s) for each stakeholder by determining:
    • Problems resulting and/or opportunities missed due to the current state approach to BRM titles/levels.
    • Benefits anticipated from the future state with better-aligned BRM titles/levels.
  3. Consider moving the BRMs into the business units they represent.
  4. Identify the optimal first steps in effecting such a change to BRM titles/levels.